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Elk study group examines population problem

Although it took considerable time and talk Wednesday evening to spruce up their problem statement, the Cody Elk Working Group is striving to craft an elk management plan for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The group had worked on its problem statement previously, but the statement needs refinement, said Dennie Hammer, Cody Game and Fish information and education specialist and group facilitator.

“This is our bottom line,” said Cody landowner Curt Bales. “We want sustainable elk herds for all.”

A stated goal for the department is coming up with recommendations for future management of the Cody Elk Herd Unit, hunt areas 55, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61 and 66.

“Sustainable,” as discussed, can have multiple meanings.

A herd can have low cow/calf or low cow/bull ratios and still be sustainable, but the herd may not be growing, said Doug McWhirter, Cody Game and Fish wildlife biologist.

Playing devil’s advocate, Hammer asked what are low cow/calf ratios, and what are good populations?

Although the questions were not specifically addressed, Tim Fagan, South Cody game warden and McWhirter did provide some data.

“Recruitment” was another buzzword.

Recruitment means an animal’s birth and a year later becoming part of the population. Even the worst calf or bull recruitment could produce sustainable hunting, but perhaps not desirable hunting, McWhirter said.

Sustainable means the same number of elk or more are coming into the herd as the number of elk that are removed.

“I’m not saying we’re in that situation yet,” said Cody outfitter, Lee Livingston. “The problem we have is not hunter opportunity... The problem we have is we see some areas that are struggling.”

After much deliberation, the group’s problem statement was: “The problem we are addressing with the Cody Elk Working Group is, there has been a redistribution of elk, which has resulted in some areas with struggling elk herds, while other areas have healthy elk herds with above objective populations. Some areas have lower calf ratios and bull recruitment than needed to sustain elk harvests at recent levels.”

Fagan provided a report of Cody Elk Herd Unit movement from 1955 to 2010.

Migratory elk spend the summer in Yellowstone, Fagan said.

In general, non-migratory Cody elk have 65 calves per 100 cows, while migratory elk have 38 calves per 100 cows, he said.

In the migratory Clark’s Fork elk unit, the numbers are 13 to 18 calves per 100 cows, McWhirter said.

The following data, provided by McWhirter, shows the number of hunters and number of elk taken in the Cody Unit as a whole (hunt areas 55, 56, 58, 59, 60, 61 and 66) and in area 55 (the North Fork river drainage bordering Yellowstone National Park) for selected years.

• In the Cody unit:

In 1983, 1,436 resident and 287 non-resident hunters harvested a total of 1,154 elk. Of that, 336 were adult bulls.

In 1993, 1,683 resident and 581 non-resident hunters took 814 elk. Of those, 359 were adult bulls.

In 2010, 2,000 resident and 672 non-resident hunters bagged 1,430 elk, with 618 being adult males.

• In area 55:

In 1983, 711 resident and 68 non-residents killed a total of 186 elk, 112 of them adult males.

In 1993, 319 resident and 61 non-residents killed 59 elk, 38 of them bulls.

In 2010, 198 resident and 67 non-residents killed 87 elk, 53 of them adult males.

Sustainable means not removing more elk than are replaced, said Landon Selby of Cody, one of a dozen members of the public attending the meeting.

“Sustainable has to be a steady line,” Selby said. “Right now, we don’t have that.”

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